Monday, 29 May 2017


Like many of my generation in America, my first exposure to Roger Moore came in the TV series Ivanhoe. This was shortly after Richard Greene had played Robin Hood on the small screen, and I'm sure it was an attempt to echo the success of that show. The two actors had much in common, particularly their spectacular good looks, and, absent Moore's later bonanza from Bond, their careers were similar in lots of ways, with action movies their main staple.

But it was when Moore appeared as the Saint that I was hooked. It was the first of a group of British shows that eventually made it over to the US, followed by Danger Man, The Avengers, The Prisoner; all of which seemed more inventive, stylish, and smarter than most of our own fare. Looking back at old episodes now, I can see the bare-bones nature of most of it, the crazy accents of English actors, and the formulaic nature, but imagine my thrill when I moved to London, and walking from our flat to Regent's Park walked by the block of flats where Templar's Volvo sports car would pull up when he came home.

Moore was excellent as the Saint, a role that has defeated most of the actors who've tried it (Louis Hayward and George Sanders really being the only exception. Moore's Simon Templar is pitched close to his James Bond, with a certain irony, and less tongue in cheek: there is also the occasional sense of a ruthless presence which Sean Connery brought to Bond, but Moore ditched for that role.

Before Bond, there's one Moore role of which I have only a vague recollection, except that it wasn't very good. He played in a TV movie called Sherlock Holmes in New York, with Patrick Mcnee as Watson, John Huston as Moriarty, and Charlotte Rampling as Irene Adler. You can see why I would have watched. I looked it up and the supporting cast included Gig Young (another I've seen mentioned as a proto-Bond), Leon Ames, Jackie Coogan and David Huddlestone. There is also Moore's son Geoffrey, billed as Scott Adler, which must have been his playing Irene Adler's son, by Holmes, but sadly I can't remember that either. Roger Moore certainly wasn't designed to be Sherlock Holmes.

The Saint to me was his defining role, but of course it was Bond who came to define him. I recall Moore's reply when asked if it was true Ian Fleming wanted him as Bond from the start (which was highly unlikely, as Dr No. predates The Saint). 'Fleming didn't know me from shit,' he laughed. 'He wanted Cary Grant or David Niven.' That was Fleming's image of Bond, although Connery actually captured more of the actual character Fleming wrote: especially the cruelty and the sado-masochism  behind the stories. Connery remains unquestionably the best Bond.

But Moore marked a turning point for the role, which was to take it totally tongue in cheek. Right down to his name, with its built-in double-entendre. Where Connery's Bond had been holding his own against the somewhat bumbling Yanks (Felix Leiter & Co), Moore's Bond was a celebration of Brittania well before Cameron and UKIP appropriated it. It made life impossible for those actors who followed, and, like Piers Brosnan, tried to walk the character back toward Connery. They surrendered, and in Daniel Craig created a new Bond, pure Little-Englander, a Nick Hornby character with muscles, playing Texas Hold Em, not Chemin der fer. Moore's grace and sense of irony was lost completely.

I encountered this once, when I met him while working for ABC Sports at the Monaco Grand Prix. This may have been the same year I met Joan Collins, but I don't think so. That's another story, anyway. My function was to sort out problems, of which there were many, with the organisers, so on the Saturday I was in the pits as we got ready to film Jackie Stewart's tour of the course: driving round it with a camera and sound man in the back seat. Why we did this every year was beyond me, since the course never changed, but every producer thought he would bring his own personal touch to it, or maybe get something new from Jackie, who was both a lovely guy and a consummate pro who had probably done it to death the very first time, but always added something about different cars or drivers or weather to try to make it new.

We were just about ready to go when Jackie spotted Roger Moore across the pit area, going into one of the hospitality areas. I know Roger, he told me, he'll do this with me. Can you go get him to do it?'. This was the best idea anyone on the show had had all week, so I went off to the tent, introduced myself to Mr. Moore, and explained. Of course, I'd love to, he said, and we walked back to the car. I may have mentioned The Saint and how much I'd liked it. More than once. Roger and Jackie were old friends, maybe from living in Switzerland (note, the photo above right is one I believe was taken years later). They greeted each other, Jackie explained again, and Roger said of of course again. Then, looking at me and giving just the sort of raised eyebrow I remembered from The Saint, he went straight over to the driver's seat and got in. Jackie got flustered, nearly apoplectic, as he tried to explain he was doing the driving, not Roger, that's what he was here for, he was the driver, and so on. There was a lot of snickering going on which didn't burst into full laughter until Moore got out of the front seat laughing away himself. I just wish we'd been taping it.

Every obituary I saw remarked how much he enjoyed life and with how little seriousness he took himself and his career. It could not have been made more clear in that one sunny Saturday in Monaco.

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